Life and Activities
of Capt. John Underhill
Edited from "Underhill Genealogy,"
by Jossephine C. Frost (Mrs. Samuel Knapp Frost) Brooklyn, NY Vol. 1
Published Privately by Myron
C. Taylor in the interests of The Underhill Society of America, 1932
The English Ancestry of Capt. John Underhill has been established back
to and including Hugh Underhill, keeper of the wardrobe to Queen Elizabeth
in Greenwich Palace, examined, and passed, by the College of Arms in London
and traced to armigerous Underhills of Ettington in Warkickshire and their
predecessors of the thirteenth century. As to the year of his birth, legend
varies between 1597 and 1600; as to place, tradition locates it at Baginton,
near Kenilworth (Killingworth) in Warwickshire.
The mother of Capt. John Underhill was a widow living in Holland in 1618,
and it should be conceded that he was residing there with her at that time,
but no authentic evidence is found concerning him until Nov.28, 1628, on
which date the Betrothal Records of Gorinchem and the Hague testify to
his betrothal to Heylken, daughter of Willem de Hooch of the former place
and in each entry he is described as a Cadet in the Guard of the Prince
of Orange. As a sequel to those entries, the marriage of the couple on
December 12, 1628, is recorded in the records of the Kloosterkerk at The
Hague. He makes one other appearance in the Dutch records there on Feb.26,
1630, when he signs a document stating his acceptance of the division of
his wife's father's estate.
Capt. John Underhill is first mentioned in New England, when, on Aug.27,
1630, he joined the first church. In Vol.11. of this publication the editor
states he was first mentioned Sept 7, 1630, but she had not at that time
seen the First Church Records. Just when he arrived in New England is not
definitely known but that he came with Winthrop is generally conceded and
it is stated in Vol.11. of The Life and Letters of John Winthrop that he
(Winthrop) sailed from England April 8, 1630.
Helena, wife of Capt
John Underhill, did not join the church until 15, 10 mo., 1633, probably
because of her inability to speak the English language and on the 29, 10
mo., 1633, their maid, Margery Hinds, became a member.
On Sept 7, 1630, the Court of Assistants of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
met in Charlestown and authorized Underhill be provided with food, money
and house rent as the chief military authority of the Colony with Daniel
Patrick, who shared the fifty pounds maintenance. He was made Captain before
May 18, 1631, and as such was expected to attend Governor Winthrop on his
official visits, to arrest notable offenders and locate with others, convenient
places for forts on Castle Island, Charlestown and Dorchester. In May 1634
he was elected Deputy to the General Court and on 7 mo. 1 day, 1634 is
listed one of Boston's Selectmen.
When he sailed for
England in November, 1634, the ostensible reason given by Winthrop was
that he "had leave to visit his friends in Holland," but circumstantial
evidence indicates that his real mission was to secure considerable additions
to the warlike stores of the colony in view of the fact that armed conflict
with England was anticipated. He did, at any rate, procure a generous supply
of gun-powder from one friend of the colony; and had returned to Boston
before September, 1635. During the ensuing winter he was empowered by the
General Court to impress labor for the erection of forts and to direct
the distribution of ordnance to various vulnerable places on the coast
and one of the other specific duties assigned him was the arrest of his
friend, Roger Williams, who had taken refuge in Salem, but when the officers
arrived there he had fled to more congenial shores to the south to escape
punishment by the Puritans for his liberal religious views and became the
founder of the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
In August, 1636, Capt. John took a prominent part in the punitive expedition
to Block Island and he was the eleventh signer on the original roll of
membership of The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston in
1637, although they did not receive their charter until 13 of 1 mo., 1638.
On the 1 mo., 9 day, 1636/7, he was chosen Captain by the General Court
"for the country's service" in view of the grave danger which threatened
the colony from the Pequot Indians. He proceeded to Say-brook Fort and
with Capt. John Mason, was the chief instrument in their complete destruction.
However on 2 of 9 mo., 1637, he was discharged from further service but
was to have a quarter's pay for a gratuity, but at this same meeting of
the General Court he was censored for "putting his hand to a seditious
writing," was disfranchised, put from the Captain's place and disarmed.
The "seditious writing" was the signing of a petition in favor of Rev.
John Wheelwright who had given great offence by a liberal Fast-Day sermon
and sentenced to be banished.
Early in 1638, Capt. John sailed for England and on March 24 was in negotiation
with the Committee of Providence Island to enter the service of the company
in a military capacity. On April 26 his pamphlet, "Newes from America,"
was entered at Stationers' Hall, London. He had returned to Boston by August
first for on that day he sold his house and land there but on the 6 of
7 mo., 1638, the General Court decreed his banishment. He followed Rev.
Wheelwright to the neighborhood of Dover and Exeter and ere long was elected
Governor of that community, a post he occupied until March; 1640. During
the short period of his stay there he was seeking a new abode, for on Sept.
8, 1639, as Governor John Underhill, he asked permission to dwell with
the Dutch in New Amsterdam. It was granted him but he did not abide in
that neighborhood until several years later.
In 1640 he was excommunicated by the First Church of Boston, only to be
shortly restored to its membership, it having been realized by Winthrop
and his colleagues that his actions had been woefully misjudged. Towards
the end of 1641, in view of disturbances at Dover and uncertainty as to
his future, his thoughts again turned towards the Dutch and on Jan.16,
1642, he leased a plantation in Flatlands, which it does not appear
he occupied. At the instigation of the Church in Boston who fitted him
out with a pinnace to remove himself and family, he was led to locate in
Stamford and on the 5 of 2 mo., 1643, he was elected Deputy from there
to the General Court of New Haven. By October of that year his services
had been requisitioned by Director Kieft for aid against the Indians and
in February of 1644 he was in chief command of the force which destroyed
the Indian encampment near Greenwich. For those services Kieft made him
two grants of land, one being Meuteleers Island, in later years known as
Bergen Island and the other a plot on Manhattan Island now occupied by
Trinity Church-yard, on which land he took up his abode prior to May 25,
1644. On May 24, 1645, he was elected a member of the Council of New Amsterdam
and the same year one of the Eight Men who were elected to adopt measures
against the Indians. The Bergen Island property did not come into his possession
until May 14, 1646. There is every evidence that he expected to make that
place his permanent home, but when Director Stuyvesant came into power,
he appointed him Sheriff of Flushing, April 27, 1648, and he removed to
that town where he was elected a Magistrate in 1651 and served as such
in 1652, but in April, 1653, on learning that the Dutch were plotting with
the Indians to attack the English, his relations with Director Stuyvesant
became strained and he was imprisoned in New Amsterdam for hoisting the
Parliamentary colors and "addressing a seditious paper to the people of
Long Island." His incarceration was of short duration and the charges against
him were dismissed, the natural outcome of which was that he left Flushing
for Newport, R. I., where he offered his services to the Commissioners
of the United Colonies in "the common cause of England against the Dutch,"
and on May 19, 1653, the General Assembly of Rhode Island commissioned
him Commander-in-Chief on land with full power to act On June 27, 1653,
he seized the Dutch post between Saybrook and Hartford for the English,
with permission of the General Court of Hartford. This fort, known as The
House of Hope, had long hampered the development of Hartford and had been
fortified by the Dutch in 1641. Peace was declared in 1654 and during the
short period affecting the foregoing events he had taken up his residence
in Southold, L. I., certainly residing there in March of that year and
owning property located partially where the Savings Bank now stands. In
1658 his first wife, Helena, died there and there has recently been erected
to her memory a small slate stone, to harmonize with those of the pioneers
still standing in the Presbyterian Cemetery in that place. *
(see notation regarding this passage at the end) Early
in the following year he married Elizabeth, daughter of Lieut. Robert and
Elizabeth (Fownes-Winthrop) Feake, and sold his property in Southold on
April 1st to Thomas Moore. In August of that year he was a resident of
Setauket, otherwise known as Cromwell's Bay. Elizabeth Fownes Winthrop
was a cousin and widow of Henry Winthrop, son of Governor John Winthrop,
said Henry losing his life by drowning shortly after his arrival in New
England. Just when Capt. John Underhill located in Oyster Bay is not definitely
known, but probably in 1661. Certain it is, the inhabitants there on March
1, 1664/5 appointed him a delegate from that place to the Convention in
Hempstead where a body of laws and ordinances for the future government
of the Province were promulgated, which continued the laws of the Colony
until October, 1683. On April 22, 1665, he was appointed Surveyor of Customs
for Long Island and later High Constable and Under Sheriff of the North
Riding of Yorkshire on Long Island, by "His Highness the Duke of York."
Besides being the intermediary between the colonists and Governor Nicolls
with reference to taxation and other matters, the Matinecock Indians especially
referred to him as their chief advisor and on Oct. 1, 1666, he presented
a petition on their behalf to the Court of Assizes. In recognition of those
services they conveyed to John Underhill one hundred and fifty acres of
land, the original deed of which is now preserved in the custody of Myron
C. Taylor, whose summer home stands on part of that allotment. Prior to
April, 1667, Capt. John had been seeking the approval of the Governor for
naming that territory Killingworth, to which he had acceded, even the Indian
deed being dated "Killenworth," prior to the Governor's written consent.
Sometime previous to March 14, 1666/7, Capt. John had asked relief from
his military duties for on that date the Governor agreed writing, "by reason
of of yor yeares & other cares that attend you, I do allow of your
excuse and leave you to your owne Liberty." On Feb.24, 1668/9, Governor
Lovelace wrote the inhabitants of Killingworth and Matinecock in reply
to one received "by the hands of Captain Underhill," regarding the residents
of those places requesting independence of Hempstead, and this appears
to be his last official act. He made his will in Killingworth and died
there 21 of 7 mo., 1672, and was buried in what is now known as The Underhill
Burying Ground, located in Locust Valley, L. I., being a part of the acreage
presented to him by the Indians in 1667 and where an imposing monument
marks his burial place. Close. by and on a part of the original Indian
grant is "Killing-worth," the home of his best known living descendant,
Myron C. Taylor.
Numerous letters from Capt. John Underhill are preserved in the Winthrop
Manuscript owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society and photostats
of each one are in the possession of Myron C. Taylor, only two or three
being used in this publication. Letters vainly sought by the editor were
undoubtedly destroyed in Greenwich, Conn., or in Boston as per the following
minute found among the many scraps of paper left by the Winthrop family.
It reads as follows: "The eating teeth of time devours all things. A Hogshead
of Ancient Papers of value, belonging to our family lost at Greenwich in
New England; a barrell full of papers Burnt in a warehouse at Boston."
The date is partially destroyed, only the last figure, "8," is readable.
The handwriting is of the period of the seventeenth or early eighteenth
following relevant information was emailed to LIG by John Fitton - email@example.com
The below highlighted reference was to Elizabeth Fones-Winthrop-Feake not
the daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth Fones-Winthrop-Feake was one of
my 11th Great Grandmothers. She was quite notorious because after she was
abandoned by her mad husband Robert Feake, she married William Hallet (after
which Hallets Cove was named). Peter Stuyvesant granted her a divorce from
RE: "Early in the following
year he married Elizabeth, daughter of Lieut. Robert and Elizabeth (Fownes-Winthrop)
Feake, and sold his property in Southold on April 1st to Thomas Moore.
In August of that year he was a resident of Setauket, otherwise known as
Cromwell's Bay. Elizabeth Fownes Winthrop was a cousin and widow
of Henry Winthrop, son of Governor John Winthrop, said Henry losing his
life by drowning shortly after his arrival in New England.